Interview on ABC 891 Adelaide Evenings with Peter Goers
VET Student Loans eligible courses

Peter Goers: Let’s go now- a little earlier I spoke to Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. My guest in the studio is Stanley Browning and Poppy Meave(*). They are AC Arts’ actors. This is Adelaide TAFE. Let’s see what the Minister says.


Simon Birmingham: Well the Turnbull Government took the decision to end Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP scheme which had ballooned from costing around $300 million, to close to $3 billion in a three year period, yet we’re seeing student completion rates for many colleges in the single digit territory. So terribly poor completion, and students facing fees that had grown from $5000 to $30,000 in some instances. 

We’ve taken the decision to close that scheme at the end of this year, at the end of 2016, and we will replace it in 2017 with the new VET Student Loans program which has tighter barriers to entry for which education and training providers can offer it, has loan caps in place to stop and put the ballooning prices and put some downward pressure on prices, and indeed applies restrictions in terms of the areas of courses to those that are actually on State Skills Needs Lists and have been identified as being good, strong areas of potential employment outcomes.

Peter Goers: What about acting?

Simon Birmingham: Well a number of arts-related courses are on the list that we’ve put out for consultation. So diplomas in screen and media, visual arts, live production, creative product development, music industry, all make it through onto the list. But as I say we have applied an approach across pretty much all sectors aside from a couple of really identified areas of priority where we’ve said we’ll use the Skills Needs List for States and Territories who identify courses that they see and support as having strong employment outcomes and they’ll be the ones that go into the new program. 

Now that’s out for consultation for a period of a couple of weeks, so we’re getting feedback on it, but importantly this is about making sure that taxpayer money used to subsidise student training and learning is actually focused on getting the best employment outcomes and job prospects for those students.

Peter Goers: What about the acting course?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said before there are a range of different diplomas across the arts. Now, there is a Diploma of Arts in Acting – if I have a look at my list of different subjects which currently accounts for 0.07 per cent of enrolments in the VET FEE-HELP scheme, so it’s a very tiny course. It obviously is not on at least two of the State or Territory Skills Needs Lists and that of course is a skills list that they develop but we’re using to inform what we believe is best to subsidise based on the best employment prospects of the students.

Peter Goers: So, is that a yes or a no – will they be subsidised or not? Because we’ve been contacted by acting students who are very upset saying they’re going to have to pay $3,500 up front in order to continue their course at Adelaide TAFE and 28 out of the 36 of them cannot afford that, unsurprisingly. What would you say to that?

Simon Birmingham: Well Peter I can say to continuing students that they have nothing to fear, that continuing students will be able to complete their course under the existing VET FEE-HELP scheme without any impact at all as long as they opt in by February next year to continue their studies. Under existing arrangements they are absolutely in the clear.

Peter Goers: That’s good to know. TAFE share of government funding has fallen by some 24 per cent in the last eight years, so will this free up more funds for the TAFE system?

Simon Birmingham: Well we have provided huge funding growth under the old VET FEE-HELP scheme for TAFEs. They saw enormous growth in what they received under this scheme. State Governments have made other funding decisions in relation to TAFEs. But importantly under the new program that we’re putting in place, I’ve said that there is an automatic entry for TAFEs and public providers and then a very stringent process that will be applied to private providers to ensure that only those who have high quality outcomes, that actually get their graduates jobs, get through into the new program. 

So this will ensure that TAFEs are protected in a better, higher quality program. But I should note that from a Federal Government perspective the type of VET student loans that have been provided has seen around a 400 per cent growth in funding to TAFE over the last few years, so huge extra funds flowing in- support for students going to TAFEs from the Federal Government. Unfortunately some decisions at the State level that have been less than optimal.

Peter Goers: Who decides whether these courses are skills based, as you say, or lifestyle? Some of them have been called lifestyle, so in which case we’re not going to allow you to do this on the loan scheme.

Simon Birmingham: Well some of the- each of the States and Territories do have their own processes for determining what they put on a skills need list and those processes usually involve engagement with local industry and employers. Usually have open consultation processes of some sort. As I said we are also putting the proposed list we have through a consultation process. There are still 347 courses on the list that we’ve got out saying that we will continue to support the student loans in those areas. And as I said at the outset, a range of those across visual arts, music industry, live production and technical services are on that list. So we’ve certainly not taken a view of saying all of the arts are out or anything of that sort. We’ve taken a view of trying to use what available evidence there, it’s around priority areas that best use taxpayer dollars to help students maximise their employment prospects.

[Excerpt ends]

Peter Goers: There you are. That was the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. What do you make of that? My two students in here Stanley Browning and Poppy Meave from the Adelaide TAFE College, they’re acting students, what do you make of it?

[Continues – interview with students]